By Dan Elliott, AP
The Department of Veterans Affairs has warned more than 2,100 veterans in Eastern Colorado and parts of Kansas that their personal information may have been compromised when an employee emailed documents to himself.
An agency employee told The Associated Press that he is the person who emailed the information to himself, describing it as unauthorized wait lists used by VA health care facilities in Colorado. The employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears retaliation, said he wanted to document the lists because they could have been used to conceal lengthy delays in providing care.
In Wednesday’s warning to veterans, the VA said the potentially compromised information included veterans’ full names, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers and medical diagnoses. The agency said the employee emailed it to himself in unencrypted form.
The VA said it is investigating. The agency didn’t identify the employee.
The VA’s internal watchdog, the Office of Inspector General, announced last month it was looking into the employee’s claims at the request of Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Cory Gardner of Colorado.
Johnson and Gardner said the employee came to them with the allegations and described him as a whistleblower. The whistleblower also provided redacted copies of the information to The AP.
The VA said Wednesday that it takes the allegations of unauthorized wait lists very seriously and will work with the inspector general.
Unofficial wait lists have been used by VA facilities elsewhere to hide how long it takes veterans to get health care appointments. The discovery of the lists created a nationwide scandal when 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments at a Phoenix VA hospital.
The scandal led Congress to fund the Veterans Choice program, which allows veterans to seek private care at government expense if they have waited 30 days or longer. It also led to the ouster of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Wait times have been an issue in Colorado as well. In February, the inspector general said workers at a Colorado Springs VA clinic reported some veterans got appointments sooner than they actually did, while at least 288 people had to wait longer than the 30-day target. Investigators didn’t say whether the records were deliberately falsified.
The inspector general’s office said in May that it found no indication of improper scheduling lists at an endoscopy clinic in Grand Junction and clinics for prosthetics and audiology in Denver.